Tuesday, June 30, 2009

inbox zero -- a poll

I remember the last century fondly. In 1996 email management was easy: answer it all the same day, every day. Inbox Zero was my default. Now, oof, Inbox Zero looks like a mythical beast. (A brief definition: inbox = the list of emails newly arrived and/or marked as new so I remember to respond. Ha ha ha.)

So how many of you have ever achieved the nirvana of Inbox Zero? Have you done it this century?

How do you manage your mail?

Some people manage it like laundry: just leave it lying around, and then it either gets so stale you can throw it away without a qualm, or it becomes magically fresh again, i.e. interesting, and you're motivated to respond. Some people despair on a regular basis, delete everything, and send a cheery general email: just lost my email, so if you didn't get a response, email me again.

I used to organise and save my mail. I had a massive 12-year archive, which I lost in a hard drive meltdown in 2005. I was mostly relieved--though very sorry to have lost the couple of dozen emails from Carolyn, my sister, who died in 2001.

I have, in fact, achieved Inbox Zero once this year--around February, I think. I wish I'd thought to take a screenshot of the momentous event. Today I'm going to do the cull-the-stale thing (requests for blurbs for books long-since published; requests for essays for journals already in press; requests for auction items for causes long-since failed--are you seeing a pattern?) and reduce the inbox by about a third.

So how about you? How do you deal? Check as many answers as apply.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

the world has changed...

...and it's a good thing. Look at these two young women. They've just been voted "best couple" by their senior class at a South Bronx high school:

Mention the South Bronx to marriage equality advocates in New York, and many think of State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., the fiery Pentecostal minister and legislator from the area who vehemently opposes same-sex marriage. Ask young lesbians Victoria (“Vikky”) Cruz and Deoine Scott about that kind of resistance, however, and it barely seems to square with their personal experience as an out couple in an area high school.

Vikky 17, and Deoine, 18, were overwhelmingly voted “best couple” by their peers in the graduating class at Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School, a first for the small public high school located in the senate district represented by Diaz, Sr. Vikky, who participates in the Radio Rookies program for aspiring young journalists sponsored by local public radio station WNYC-FM, reported on the historic experience in this piece that first aired on Thursday.

Sometimes I try to imagine how my life might have been if the world had treated me and my first girlfriend this way thirty years ago. And you know what? My imagination utterly fails me, it just fuses into a lump. The differences, for me, are literally unimaginable. Wow. I can't begin to tell you how pleased I am for these two girls. What an amazing life they have ahead of them.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

when potlucks work

It was cool to meet so many of our neighbours--some people who have only been here for a year or two and others who have seen the place go from unincorporated farmland to a city neighbourhood. One man, with a six year-old daughter, started to introduce himself to a neighbour and she said, "Oh, you're the Eagle Scout who knocked on my door all those years ago and signed me up to learn CPR!"

The food turned out better than any potluck has a right to. The beer was cold, the sun warm, the conversation lively. It turns out our neighbours are heartier partyers than me--I lasted about two hours but many people were there for four.

Here for your delectation and delight are two pix (taken by the lovely K). This is the commons:

This is a view from the other direction (our driveway on the left):


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Saturday, June 27, 2009

neighbours and the apocalypse

It's getting towards the end of Life Away From Keyboard week. I should be back, paying full attention, on Monday. Today we're prepping for our big neighbourhood garden party/potluck BBQ on the commons next to our house. We've invited about 30 families; no idea how many will show. But we have two grills, a badminton net up in a neighbour's garden, shady trees, coolers full of beer.

It'll be good to meet some of the people who live a couple of blocks up the street. You never know when that apocalypse will make us glad to be a community. Plus they might, y'know, bring good food...

The weather looks perfect: low 70s clear sky, light breeze. No is currently mowing their lawn, reroofing their house, or hammering on their deck, so it's peaceful, too.

I hope your Saturday is shaping up well.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

life is good

I met Kelley 21 years ago today. I'm still delighted. And so far we're having a practically perfect day.

I wonder if anyone at this year's Clarion or Clarion West is falling in love? One day, someone's going to write a romance novel set in a 6-week writing workshop.

Two pics of us, then and now:


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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

tell it to the tomatoes

This is still Life Away from Keyboard week. Here for your ponderation is an article from the Telegraph:

Women gardeners' voices speed up growth of tomato plants much more than men's, it found.

In an experiment run over a month, they found that tomato plants grew up to two inches taller if they were serenaded by the dulcet tones of a female rather than a male.

How many of you talk to your plants, inside or out?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

men are afraid...

I promised a while ago that I'd write a piece on The Woman Question, that is, my approach to gender in historical (and fantasy) fiction. And I will. Very soon. It's something that I'm actively engaged with as I write Hild.

But this is Life Beyond Keyboard week. (Yes, I do have friends, neighbours, a sweetie, social and community obligations, and responsibilities to/for a couple of organisations. Hey, it's not *all* about the writing--just mostly.)

So for now I'll leave you with this, as true now as it has been throughout history (and all cultures, as far as I can tell):

"Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." Discuss.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

vid

Last year, FoAN Karina Meléndez made Sun on Dragonfly, a video response to my story, "Touching Fire." It blew me away. I'd never seen anything like it (well, except this). It occurred to me yesterday that recent AN readers might not have seen it. This week is Busy Week for me, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity to reshow the vid. Enjoy. (Depending on your work rules, it may or may not be Safe For Work. I think it is--but, eh, I'm not always the best judge.)


Here is the original audio the vid is based on:







(direct link)

If you prefer the written word you can download the "Touching Fire" .pdf for free here. Of course, you can also buy With Her Body, my short collection ("Touching Fire," "Yaguara," and "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese").

If you like the vid, go over to YouTube and drop a comment for Karina.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

I need a goaticon!

(I actually like this goat better, by Brad Fitzpatrick, but my budget won't stretch anymore this month.)

Anyone out there good with animation? I need an icon of a goat butting something: doof! I'd like to append it to emails and blog comments and Tweets.

I've reached my limit of being reasonable with turnip heads. I want to just grab them by the lapels, nut them, drop them, and walk away. Instead of one of those twirly smiley emoticons I need a goat that just leaps out at you and butts you in the face: doof! I think the recipient would get the message. And I wouldn't even have to say anything. Think of all the extra writing I'd get done if I could just sent a goaticon and call it good.

Instead of, Oh, no, really, your whingeing little complaint about my novel or blog post or attitude in general, is perfectly reasonable and I'll listen and change my behaviour and, gosh, have you ever considered looking at it from this perspective? I could just nut them and walk off. Or, y'know, sent a goaticon.

I'm liking this idea very much. Anyone willing to barter some skills?

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

town and country

William Boyd has an interesting article in the Guardian:

Angus Wilson (1913-1991), novelist and short story writer, identified what he called an essential dichotomy in the English realistic novel dating back to Samuel Richardson in the 18th century, namely the concepts of "town" and "country" and the opposing values that they imply. The division is an intriguing one, even today, and it is still relatively easy to classify a novelist in one or the other camp. Are you essentially "urban" or are you "rural"? This is not an innocent question, as Wilson infers. To categorise yourself as one or the other is tendentious and provokes a series of unconscious judgments. In his long autobiographical essay, The Wild Garden, Wilson lists some of the antitheses that "town" and "country" respectively embody: progress versus tradition; art versus nature; industry versus the contemplative life; reason versus instinct; strained sensibility versus sturdy common sense, bohemianism versus rootedness, and so on.

Actually, the piece swerves here, and instead of a delicious disquisition on setting and psyche, Boyd talks about gaming the dichotomy and writing about...parks.

Boyd calls himself an urban novelist. I disagree; I think he's much less town than country. Thinking of his novels--Brazzaville Beach, Any Human Heart, The Blue Afternoon, and others--recalls to me the open air, the scents of nature, not brick or car exhaust or harried passersby. But, hey, they're his books; he can call classify them and himself as he likes.

I'd put myself in the country camp when it comes to novel-length fiction, though much of my short fiction is urban--and features parks. How very interesting...

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Friday, June 19, 2009

women fathering children?


From the Globe & Mail:

In the new Canadian film The Baby Formula, opening later this week, two lesbians become pregnant using sperm derived from each other's stem cells.

The premise of the mockumentary may be fictional, but with the speed at which stem cell research is evolving, could same-sex human reproduction one day become reality? And should it?

Scientists have already taken the first baby steps toward realizing this brave new, and some would say controversial, world of conception.

(thanks, Cindy)

Possible? Eh, not really. Will some variety of this be possible in the future? Yes. The near future? Unlikely. But, wow, if this tech had been real 40 years ago, I'm pretty sure I'd be a mother (or a father--oh, dear, how would one parse all that?). I wouldn't have been able to resist the lure of gene mixing with the beloved. God, I'd probably have six children. A whole alternative life has flashed before me. Aaargh!! Must now go drink a gallon of tea and eat chocolate or my brain will fly into teeny tiny pieces...

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

dinner dinner, yum yum


Last night we ate a pre-anniversary dinner at Rover's. We opted for their 'Twist on a Classic' prix fixe, which was delicious and excellent--stunning, in fact--value.

***
Grilled Asparagus, Pickled Red Onion and Carrot with Champagne Mousseline
Cascade Morel and Artisanal Bacon Soup with Fried Garlic Brioche
Rabbit “Á la Moutarde”, Fingerling Potato Rissolée, Fennel Confit and Radish Salad
Dark Chocolate Pot De Crème, Coffee Gelée and Orange Madeleine

***

We also went for the wine pairings: a different glass with each course. In addition, and just because we could, we had a glass of Taittinger to start (it was our wedding champagne, long long ago) and, afterwards, Armagnac and espresso (for me) and Cognac and latte (for Kelley). A lovely evening, with some reminiscences but more looking into the future (and some dreamy hand-holding). The chef put the pot de creme on a long plate, and used a brush to paint a chocolate shooting star with little tiny orange-something or other dots like stars beneath it and 'Happy Anniversary' written in chocolate. I've never eaten the heavens before.

I'm still feeling pleasantly mellow.

Our anniversary (our 21st) isn't until next week, but next week is stuffed with Things To Do, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to celebrate now. 21 is a big number. I'm happy to celebrate as many times as we can. Though none of them will be quite like last year's shindig (that's the photo above: the table waiting for our guests...)

Life is good.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I am confused. Obama is confused.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Tonight, President Obama is scheduled to announce benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees. The Los Angeles Times says this will include health benefits. The New York Times thinks, eh, no it won't. And last week Obama's Department of Justice, in defending DOMA, spoke of same-sex couples in the same breath as those who practise incest or might wish to marry children.

So what's going on? Frankly, I have no idea. I can't find a coherent story in this mess. I don't think there is one.

There's a lot going on in the world at the moment--climate change (we're all going to die!), weaponisation of plutonium in North Korea (we're all going to die!), proto-revolution in Iran (they're all going to get killed!), healthcare reform (we're all going to be left to die poor and alone!), etc.--but this lack of clear strategy on one relatively simple issue is worrisome. It's also, of course, pissing me off. Because this really is a simple issue. We're human being who are being discriminated against. Polls show the electorate is finally beginning to understand that, and are coming to side with us; legislators are mostly willing, and, besides, the Democrats have control of both houses so Obama could make it happen if he was willing to commit. So why is the administration fumbling the ball?

I don't know. I hate not knowing. Does anyone out there know something I don't?


Addendum. Here's a HuffPo piece on what Obama should say tonight. I hope he does.

Addendum II: Oh dear.

Addendumdum: My confusion reaches new bounds...

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

a Hollywood realisation

Last night I was watching Outlander (yes, I really was; yes, it was deeply mediocre; no, Jim Caviezel does not smile) and wondered what it is about these pseudo Beowulf films that's been so popular with studios lately. They cost a fair amount to make; they don't make that money back at the box office (and the DVD market isn't nearly what it was) and they certainly don't earn kudos.

So there I was, after a fabulous summer dinner* watching John Hurt, Ron Perlman, Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston and others running around in bearskins and beard pigtails, waving swords, holding aloft the hissing torches, taking turns to creep into the cave or the woods and die heroically. And it suddenly came to me: Hollywood execs greenlight these films because the old guys get to carry swords, kill monsters, and be king. Those execs in their bespoke suits and handmade shoes, with their sixth trophy wife already plotting divorce under punitive California law, sit and dream of How It Used To Be, Goddammit: when men their age were respected, and strong, and wise, and useful. And so they okay the film, and live vicariously on the edge of a fjord, striding bare-armed and pony-tailed into single combat, going out in a blaze of glory to protect their people.

And, hey, what's wrong with that? This is a perfectly fine 2-star movie. The alien/dragon/morwen effects are, well, less than stellar, the historical authenticity somewhat dubious (I'm being kind--but it's clear they tried) and there isn't a single surprising moment. But for the Alien vs. Beowulf genre, it really doesn't suck. Certainly worth getting from Netflix.



* That dinner? Homemade salmon cakes (salmon, mashed potato, fresh dill) with asparagus and homemade pilaf (brown rice, green peppers, green onions, mushrooms, courgettes, pine nuts, toasted almonds), followed by Burlatt cherries (delicious, perfect fucking cherries, bought from a roadside fruit stand) dipped one by one in organic, very local, very fresh, cream. After food like that I could sit through two hours of watching the test card, never mind a film with swords! ponies! heroism!

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Monday, June 15, 2009

take me away from it all...

I read an article in the Guardian a couple of days ago, which I've been pondering on and off since: "[A]s more of us are spending our summer holidays in the UK, we asked writers to recall the book that for them best captures somewhere special on our shores..." It was a great list. I wanted to play.

I made myself a cup of tea, settled back in my chair--and drew a complete and utter blank. I couldn't conjure up a single, crystal clear image of a specific, particular, English place described in fiction. Not one.

I came up with many generalised images--just about everything ever written by Rosemary Sutcliffe and Henry Treece--but they weren't specific, weren't particular, weren't named. I couldn't point to them on a map with any confidence. I reached back to school books, to Lorna Doone, and Wuthering Heights. Nothing but vague notions of moors and a certain brooding quality.

It dawned on me that what I absorb from novels, landscape wise, is mood: wild and haunted forest, dappled and peaceful clearing, cold and still heath at dawn, warm and drowsy kitchen garth in mid-afternoon. I recall smell and texture and sound, how it all made me feel, but I don't see it.

That surprised me--and, on some level, disturbed me. I bore down. I was determined to come up with some perfect image.

The next surprise was that the landscapes I did finally come up are all wholly imaginary: the seitches of Arakis, the towers of Minas Tirith, the sands of Damar. I tried harder, pushed farther, frowned, drummed my pencil on the desk. Patrick O'Brian! Yes! But, no, not quite: what I really remember of the Aubrey/Maturin novels are the ships. I'm not sure they count. They were almost always in foreign waters.

Then I got desperate. The elegaic old English poem "The Ruin." (Go read it; it's a beautiful poem.) A couple of Shakespeare's sonnets (especially Sonnet 73, which is just an eight-hundred-years-later version of "The Ruin"). Sappho mourning her loneliness as the moon sets, and the Pleiades... (Not even English, sigh.)

But then I remembered with relief Roger Deakin: Wildwood, and Notes From Walnut Tree Farm. A couple of snatches of Richard Mabey. The beginning of Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places. (I think of them as the R Lads.) All non-fiction, though. And, even so, it's the sound of wind in trees I remember, the flash of a sparrowhawk, the creaking of frogs, the gnarled bark under the hand. I feel it; I don't see it.

I see so clearly when I write. I've always imagined I saw clearly when I read. Perhaps I do. Perhaps this feeling vs. seeing is a function of recall, or of how the memory is laid down in the first place. It's all very strange.

So now I'm curious. How you read such things. What visual images from a novel will be with you forever?

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

hit by a meteorite and lives

Wow, when this boy grows up, he'll be getting free drinks in return for his story for the rest of his life. The scar is probably worth it:

Gerrit Blank, 14, was on his way to school when he saw "ball of light" heading straight towards him from the sky.

A red hot, pea-sized piece of rock then hit his hand before bouncing off and causing a foot wide crater in the ground.

The teenager survived the strike, the chances of which are just 1 in a million - but with a nasty three-inch long scar on his hand...

(Thanks, Cindy.)

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The Blue Place - AN

From: Alexandra

I hope this message gets to you,

I just wanted to say how much your book has touched my heart. I was on After Ellen and saw a recommendation to read The Blue Place...and since the last great Lesbian Fiction book I read was Annie on my Mind...and Ruby Fruit Jungle, I had no idea if another book would hit me so deeply. Last night I finished reading by 12am, when I got to the last page and realized that Julia had passed away I was completely in shock! I first couldn't contain my tears and then I felt silly because I know it's fictional...but a part of me truly felt Aud's pain, even for just split second (it was intense!). Although real life is similar...I couldn't imagine meeting the love of my life only to have her die.

I ended up having to call a friend over the phone because I couldn't stop crying...but I have to say, your writing is so beautifully raw. Thank you for The Blue Place, and I look forward to reading more of your novels!

Everything sent to asknicola2 at nicolgriffith dot com gets to me. Sadly, though, sometimes my responses aren't particularly prompt: I start to reply, get distracted and then wander off--but the emails do get to me. I read everything. And every couple of months I comb through my posts in draft and resurrect the ones I abandoned. (Well, most of them.)

I can't imagine falling in love and then being suddenly bereft, either. I suspect I'd become unhinged. (Love in and of itself tends to unhinge a person. As does grief. Both together... Ooof. Cataclysmic.) I felt terrible killing Julia--but once I got about halfway through the novel I knew she had to go. Even so, I tried everything I could think of to avoid it, but that's just how the book had to be. It's what needed to happen to Aud.

My acquiring editor was very unhappy (she bought the novel on chapters and synopsis, and it changed). She and I had a fight. We both lost--she didn't get her way and I got assigned to another editor. It was a difficult time. It made me wary enough about dealing with the publisher that when they insisted, through my new editor, that I change the title, I was willing to discuss it. The original title was Penny in My Mouth. (I liked it, but my agent kept asking, "Who's Penny?") My second choice was Thaw, but no one liked that, either. ("Thor?" they said. " Thor?!") They wanted The Blue Place. I sighed and gave in as gracefully as I could (looking back, probably not very).

One day I'd love to see all three Aud novels published as a matching set with luscious paintings on the covers. I think these are rich, complex books which have been mischaracterised as spare, noir novels. They're not noir, in my opinion. They're luxuriant, and, even at their emotional nadir, lit by hope. At least I think so but, hey, the readers are the ones who really count. So what do you think? Lean mean noir machines, or sensuous and luxuriant deliciousnesses?

Anyway, when that happens--the matching set--it would be tempting to change TBP to Thaw, just to have all three be nifty one-word titles. But my guess is that would confuse and annoy readers. So I imagine it will be TBP for all time. I'm reconciled to that. Mostly.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

iPhone is a Kindle killer?

Ann Kirschner, university dean of William E. Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York and the author of Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story (Free Press, 2006), recently reread Little Dorritt for her bookclub. She writes an extremely interesting article about the experience.

I went automatically to my old Penguin paperback, standing ready on the shelf. Never mind its familiar and friendly orange spine — I hesitated. Maybe it would make sense to read the book on the Kindle that my husband bought me last year. Then again, for my daily Manhattan life, I love audiobooks, the best choice for crowded public transportation and a wonderful companion for walking. And now that I use an iPhone, I have been surprised by the ease of reading its crisp, bright screen.

I decided to read Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone.

It was often maddening to keep finding and losing my place as I switched from format to format. But as an experiment, it taught me a great deal about my reading habits, and about how a text reveals itself differently as the reading context changes. Along the way, I also began to make some predictions about winners and losers in the evolution of books.
(via, well, damn, I forget--if if was you, let me know and I'll link)

Her conclusion? That the iPhone is a Kindle killer.

I don't own an iPhone, so I can't really comment. (But I love my Kindle.) So what do you think?

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

it's a level 6 pandemic

According to the Guardian, "The World Health Organisation told its member states today that swine flu has become the first pandemic in 41 years, after calling a meeting of experts to discuss the threat posed by the H1N1 virus."

Most people reading that will shrug and say, Eh, who cares?

My guess is that in September or October, H1N1 will tear through North America (and Europe, and other northern territories) during flu season. The odds are that it will remain mild. Nonetheless, by September, I hope to have stocked up on oseltamivir/Tamiflu, and zanimivir/Relenza (there's some indication that Tamiflu may eventually prove ineffective--butt I probably can't take Relenza because it can trigger the same response as sulfa drugs, which I don't tolerate), and possibly celecoxib/Celebrex, a COX-2 inhibitor that looks like the best bet to tackle the super-immune response which ends up doing most of the killing in this kind of pandemic.

Do I expect the world to grind to halt and for legions to die? No. Nor do I expect disaster in everday life--yet before I cross a road I look left, then right, then left again; when I get in the car, I fasten my seatbelt; every six months, we check the smoke alarms and kitchen fire extinguisher. I prepare, and then I forget about it. It's just a habit--a minor hassle for, so far, zero return. But the one time I need it, wow, it will pay for every single moment of inconvenience. And if I never need any of these precautions then, hey, it's a *minor* inconvenience.

So take a minute, think about it. What minor inconvenience will you undertake today that might save your life tomorrow?

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The Last Legion

Oooh. Cool.



(Via Per Omnia Saecula.)

Swords! Ponies! Magic! I am such a sucker for these things...

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

but I never left! (or did I?)

io9 has a nifty article up, "4 Authors We Wish Would Return to Science Fiction." Me, Mary Doria Russel, Samuel R. Delany, and Karen Joy Fowler. Clearly, to fit in with the other kids I need a middle name, or at least an initial. Any suggestions? (Play nicely, now.)

And what's your opinion? Did I leave? If I did, am I back? (Does it matter?)

Anyway, here's a post I wrote last year on the subject. And here's a link to a Strange Horizons interview where I talk about genre a bit more.

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are women human?

Joe Sherry, the blogger who wrote yesterday's lovely review of Ammonite, has today reprinted (with my permission) my Author's Note, written in 1992:

"Are women human?" That question forms the subtext of more speculative fiction novels – fantasy, SF, horror, utopia and dystopia – than I can count. I intended Ammonite as a body blow to those who feel the question has any relevance in today’s world.

I am tired of token women being strong in a man’s world by taking on male attributes: strutting around in black leather, spike heels and wraparound shades, killing people; or riding a horse, swearing a lot, carrying a big sword, and killing people; or piloting a ship through hyperspace, drinking whatever pours, slapping boys on the back, and killing people. I am equally tired of women-only worlds where all the characters are wise, kind, beautiful, stern, seven-feet-tall vegetarian amazons who would never dream of killing anyone. I am tired of reading about aliens who are really women, or women who are really aliens.

Women are not aliens. Take away men and we do not automatically lose our fire and intelligence and sex drive; we do not form hierarchical, static, insectlike societies that are dreadfully inefficient. We do not turn into a homogeneous Thought Police culture where meat-eating is banned and men are burned in effigy every full moon. Women are not inherently passive or dominant, maternal or vicious. We are all different. We are people.

A woman-only world, it seems to me, would shine with the entire spectrum of human behavior: there would be capitalists and collectivists, hermits and clan members, sailors and cooks, idealists and tyrants; they would be generous and mean, smart and stupid, strong and weak; they would approach life bravely, fearfully and thoughtlessly. Some might still engage in fights, wars and territorial squabbles; individuals and cultures would still display insanity and greed and indifference. And they would change and grow, just like anyone else. Because women are anyone else. We are more than half of humanity. We are not imitation people, or chameleons taking on protective male coloration, longing for the day when men go away and we can return to being our true, insectlike, static, vacuous selves. We are here, now. We are just like you.

But Ammonite is much more than an attempt to redress the balance. It’s a novel. One about people – how they look at the world and how the world makes them change; one that attempts to look at biology, and wonder What If... ; one that shows readers different ways to be; one that takes them to other places, where the air and the temperature and the myths are not the same. If, a week after reading Ammonite, you pause over lunch, fork halfway to your mouth, and remember the scent of Jeep’s night air, or on your way to work daydream about the endless snow of Tehuantepec, or wonder for a moment as you climb into bed whether or not a virus could enhance our senses – then I’ve done my job.

--Atlanta, 1992.

I wrote this seventeen years ago--as a combination rant, explanation, and PR exercise. I read it again today for the first time in years and wondered if I would write it now--wondered if I would need to.

I decided that, yes, I might, because, in a way, this piece is a potted history of the way women-only worlds have been represented in science fiction, from E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lyranians, to John Wyndham's Consider Her Ways..., to Edmund Cooper (shudder). Women have played this game, too: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Daphne du Maurier, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Sheri Tepper, James Tiptree Jr, Sally Miller Gearheart (shudder). (This is not nearly an inclusive list. There are many books on the subject. See, for example, Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction.) A couple of brave souls have tried even tried boys-only worlds (the most recent being, I think, Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos).

I don't think anyone's tried a single-sex world for a few years, but women are still Othered. And women are still deemed uninteresting enough in our own right, particularly in genre fiction (and doubly so in YA): we still must disguise ourselves as boys, take on boy attributes and boy roles in order to carry a Good Story.

Why is that? Why are there no templates for exciting women-as-women stories? Romances, of course, are prototypical Women's Stories, but they're largely concerned with finding, charming, landing a man. Are there any women-as-women-whose-sole-purpose-is-something-other-than-finding-a-mate stories?

In the last twenty years there's been an explosion of crime novels with female protagonists. It took a long time for them to get past the whine-about-being-a-woman-in-a-man's-world stance and just start being human in the world. But I think they're getting there. As women. (Admittedly, in a traditionally male occupation.)

Ever since I started working on Hild I've been struggling with what I think of as The Woman Question: how to write a truly stirring, exciting, provacative tale of a woman of her time and place who is truly a woman, doing womanish things--not learning the sword, not leading battles, not casting spells: a woman, plain and simple. Now isn't the time for that essay (too many things to do today) but I think it's coming soon.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Are women (and men) portrayed more human(e)ly and less stereotypically these days, or just differently--or has there been no significant change at all?

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

rich and round and sound as a nut

Yesterday was one of those days that, while perfectly ordinary in many ways, was an absolute gift.

The weather was beautiful: low seventies, brilliant sun, a breeze from the ravine cool and tangy with brine. The birds were chatty: many different kinds, all bright in the sun, especially the just-losing-their-baby-roundness juveniles who sit on the fence and sing and clearly find everything--their own voice, a butterfly, an anxious squirrel--astonishing. I drank tea and read The Economist while soaking up vitamin D and listening to the shiver of leaves. (In spring, the new leaves whisper. Now that it's getting to be summer, the big palm-sized maple leaves hiss and shiver.) I did my morning stretching and felt smooth and strong. I had a marvellous conversation with Kelley in bed about wit and charm and confidence--how those words are such double-edged swords. I ate a perfect, absolutely perfect nectarine. I wrote a couple of scenes of Hild and thought, Damn I'm good! Kelley made us a delicious lamb stew. We watched an episode of True Blood. And I had an idea for an essay I'll write one day. It was a day rich and round and sound as a nut.

And today the sun is shining again, Hild is waiting, there's more lamb stew for lunch--and I read a lovely review of Ammonite here.

Life is good.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

clarification and apology

In my post this morning I said, in part, "I think writing classes are like therapy: if you need more than twelve sessions, you are fucked. And time-wasting. And money-wasting. Because the point of therapy is to find out where you need to do the work, and then go home and do it. That is, the therapist doesn't fix you, you fix yourself. So endless therapy is pointless. Endless writing classes are similarly pointless."

Looking at that statement I feel rather dim. And, worse, that I've been careless of some readers' feelings.

I apologise.

I meant what I said--to a degree. But good writing is all about the degree, and I made a sweeping generalisation. I went from the specific (many people I have met who have been through long-term therapy) to the general (all people who have ever been through long-term therapy) without pausing for breath. I screwed up.

So let me clarify. Yes, I have met entirely too many so-called adults who use long-term therapy as an indulgence, a way to have a captive audience for their endless self-serving maundering. But it was ridiculous to then conclude that every single person who has ever been through long-term therapy uses their therapy that way.

Today, I forgot the cardinal rule of good writing and good personship: clarity and specificity and kindness. Tomorrow, I hope to do better.

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can creative writing be taught? a poll

Recently, Kelley and I have been discussing ways we might be able to help other writers learn their craft. One of the things that puzzles and disturbs me as I ponder this notion is how many 'writers' think that a course of instruction of some kind--a workshop, a masterclass, an MFA--will provide the magic bullet, the secret decoder ring, the perfect and instant solution...

You can't become a brain surgeon unless you study at middle school, high school, college, medical school, in practise. Two dozen years of study. Tens of thousands of hours. You can't become a writer unless you read tens of thousands of books, and write not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands but *millions* of words.

I'll say that again more clearly: the only way to learn to write is to read and to write. A lot.

I think writing classes are like therapy: if you need more than twelve sessions, you are fucked. And time-wasting. And money-wasting. Because the point of therapy is to find out where you need to do the work, and then go home and do it. That is, the therapist doesn't fix you, you fix yourself. So endless therapy is pointless. Endless writing classes are similarly pointless. Go read. Go write. Then take a short course (a weekend, say) to hear someone else articulate some of the lessons you've already learnt by trial and error. Read some more, write some more. Take a class with a different teacher. Get over your shock that there are as many ways to approach fiction as there are writers. Read even more, write even more. Take another class. Get over your horror that the person teaching the class very probably knows less than you. Read and write once again, with very close attention.

Congratulations. You are now officially a beginner.

I've never studied for an MFA, so those of you with experience of such things should speak up and give your input. But I've taught post-MFA students, and it's my belief that an MFA teaches students two things: how to get an MFA, and how to then go out and get a job to teach others how to get an MFA.

I think if you are young, or otherwise new to the game, an MFA can be useful: a structure to underpin your own learning, a way to spend two years not having a job, an excuse to borrow money from the government to support you while you write. Your student cohort may even provide emotional and practical support while you learn your craft and, eventually, practise your art. Your teachers may help you network with agents and publishers when the time is ripe. But it won't teach you how to write. You will do that. And you will do it by reading and writing.

It's simple. It's just not easy. And if you are doing it alone it can be very nearly impossible.

I think I could help a beginner writer (one who has already written the million words) to find a less circuitous path to her or his writing home (or style, or voice, or whatever you want to call it). But does that count as teaching? I don't know. Perhaps it counts as guiding, or mentoring. I believe (today, anyway--I feel tremendous ambivalence about the whole subject) that only the writer-to-be can do the initial work, only the writer-to-be can ensure the gradual formation of The Writer, and that this occurs on an inarticulate level. I think it's only the writer-to-be who reads the novels and ponder them and is moved and changed by them. Only the writer-to-be feels the pinprick burn under her breastbone that grows and grows until it's a fireball that must be loosed.

So, you tell me. Can creative writing be taught by others, or must it be self-taught? Vote in this poll, and then drop a comment. I'm intensely curious.

  • yes
  • no
  • depends on the teacher
  • I don't know

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Friday, June 5, 2009

empty as a gourd

Ninety-one degrees here yesterday--but today it should get only as high as the mid-seventies. To celebrate I'll be spending time outside, away from the intarweb. Perhaps after breathing real air (oooh, can't wait) some stray thought will creep into my echoing head, which is currently empty as a gourd. In which case I'll post something.

Or, y'know, maybe not. Wherever you are, have a great Friday.

Where are you? What are you planning for this weekend?

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

party party party in Seattle!

Will you be in Seattle on Friday, July 17th? Then come to a party! It's free. It's at our house. It's for the students, instructors, and supporters of Clarion West. Kelley and I give seriously good party. You won't regret it. If you want party info, get on the Clarion West mailing list. (Give them some money, too, if you're so inclined--but it's not a prerequisite.) It's starts at 8 pm and will probably go til about midnight--though ours have been known to go a little longer. (Our 2007 hootenanny, for example, went until about 2 am.) But it's best early on, when the food is still there (Clarionites eat like gannets) and the wine is freshly opened and I'm not good and glazed. (Yep, Clarion parties are BYOB but we provide a lot of good stuff, too.)

So come on down and party. And, please, introduce yourself.

Other opportunities to see me and Kelley in the next twelve months include:

  • a skiffy wingding in Olympia, with Bloodhag (woo hoo!) at the Timberland Library, after hours, sometime in October
  • a long weekend of fun and games in Atlanta, at OutlantaCon, April 2010
  • something (don't know what, yet) in New York, at the end of May 2010, when I'll be in town for the Lambda Literary Awards and BEA

More details on all this stuff as I get it.

I'm hoping, too, to get to the UK for a long holiday later in 2010. I don't know if there will be any public stuff involved there or not, but if there is I'll be sure to let you know.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

another delicious evening

Last night's dinner was another gift of deliciousness from our neighbour, Vicki, the artist. Chicken thighs stuffed with sausage, homemade pasta tossed with fried sage leaves and chive blossom (all picked from Vicki's garden) homemade white chocolate and cherry cake. And Kelley made us more of that roasted pineapple and rum milkshake.

Mind-bogglingly good.

I just have to say something extra about the chive blossom: delicate, aromatic, beautiful to look at as well as to taste. Lovely lovely lovely.

Vicki, by the way, is preparing a blockprint of Kelley and me. I think it's going to be astonishing. I'm trying to persuade her to print off a very limited edition (she uses the most gorgeous paper--mulberry?) in case anyone else wants one. More on that down the line.

For now, though, I'm preparing to cope with the heat. It's going to get close to ninety degrees here in Seattle. Ooof. Time to go get my hair cut--like those poor English Sheepdogs that get themselves shaved every summer...

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

adult milkshake, yum yum

So Kelley posted the milkshake recipe here. Rum, roasted pineapple, ice cream--dear god, what's not to like??

We'll be doing it again tonight...

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presidential proclamation for pride

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 1, 2009
LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH, 2009

- - - - - - -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A PROCLAMATION

Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.

LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country's response to the HIV pandemic.

Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBT rights movement, more LGBT Americans are living their lives openly today than ever before. I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration. These individuals embody the best qualities we seek in public servants, and across my Administration -- in both the White House and the Federal agencies -- openly LGBT employees are doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.

The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

BARACK OBAMA


Does anyone else find the '... in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security' qualification interesting? I wish I could peer behind the curtain on this and get an understanding of his strategy--apart, that is, from the obvious one of relying on the poor sad queers to be patient just another few years until it's, y'know, convenient to change things.

Oh, don't mind me. I haven't been sleeping. (We're having our first heatwave of the year. It was 81 degrees at Seatac at 11 a.m. Too much for me.) I think Obama means well. Mostly. But I'm so very tired of waiting.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

there is no such thing as a lesbian book (foams at mouth...)

Here are three more archive posts from Long Ago. One is a foamy rant about the notion of 'lesbian books'. I think it was published somewhere, but I'm damned if I can remember where. Two are do-my-homework questions which got short shrift. Pah! Back of my hand to lazy people! (Except me, of course. Writers are supposed to be lazy...)

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